Last fall, I took STS.S20, Tales of Two Parallels: East Campus History. It’s a special class, offered for the first time this year, with the purpose of documenting East Campus culture and history before the dorm is renovated.
The class, now labelled STS.051, will be offered this fall, and I want to encourage people to take it!
What surprised me about this class was that it isn’t the sort of lecture-based history course you encounter in high school and early years of college. It’s not a seminar, either, where you do readings and discuss during class. We did have lectures, many guest lecturers, and readings; however, the main focus of the class was research.
We learned how to collect oral histories (read: interviews), access the MIT Archives, and got a crash course on art history and documenting murals — and we learned all that by doing it. There was a great emphasis on reaching out directly to alumni to gain an understanding of East Campus in days of yore.
We produced a lot of interviews and documents about East Campus history — and even a minecraft rendition of the parallels, including every mural!
This being a class about East Campus, there were many, many fun anecdotes. As the roster was restricted to East Campus residents, the class felt friendly and close. Those who didn’t already know each other by sight or name were quick to meet. I came in fresh from REX and already recognized a wide swath of people.
This class was particularly interesting to me as a (then) prospective History double major. I came in expecting a lecture-based class, where I could sit with my friends and hear funny stories about people racing around the fifth-story ledges and setting cars on fire. The hands-on research came as a total surprise, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciate the well-aged humor in letters staff sent one another back in the 1970’s, now kept in the Archives for future undergrads to judge. We met so many alumns. My interviewee was a total badass, both now and when she attended MIT in 1972.
However, being a History major or minor is not at all necessary to enjoy this class. I am to my knowledge the only History student — many people took it to fill the H of the HASS requirement, or were drawn by the most MIT classes are 12 units; however, this class had a comparable amount of work to my other history classes. .
I asked some classmates for their takeaways, too. Here’s a review by Anhad S. ‘25:
This was my favorite history class. I loved learning about the history of East Campus, especially because I interact directly with the result of this history every day. If you take the current pranks, events and general tomfoolery that EC residents get up to and extrapolate them over almost 100 years, there is so much interesting stuff to discover. Interviewing cruft was really eye opening, as I saw myself in their stories, interacting with the same culture I know and love today.
One of my favorite stories was from an interview my group did, about how water wars used to take place inside the building. Slugfest (4E) found a heavy optical table (called the “Third-Easterator”), which would vibrate at the resonant frequency of the east parallel when they dragged it down the hall. This allowed them to make a tremendous amount of noise from above on Tetazoo (3E). So, in response, Tetazoo would pressurize fire extinguishers full of water and invade slugfest, hoping to steal the Third-Easterator or get soaked trying. Inevitably Slugfest would barricade their doors and prepare fire extinguishers of their own, so that by the time the Tetazoan fought their way onto hall, the Third-Easterator could disappear into someone’s room.
Now the concept of spraying water at each other *indoors* seems outrageous, but such water-fire extinguisher fights used to be a regular occurrence. This is why, when carpets were going to be installed in the halls in a past renovation, students specifically requested them to be “outdoor-rated”.
I also got to learn the origin of many aspects of EC culture, such as the Tetazoo squanch mascot, or how the IPP (important putz poll) spread to EC discuss.
Keep an eye out for this class, and say hi to your local cruft!